It was one of those phone calls you always love to receive as an author. Pixar Studios was on the line, and they wanted to take a meeting with me.
“Sure,” I said. “Love to.”
The meeting occurred ten days later at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, a small city across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and about forty-five minutes by car from my home. The studios are behind a gated entrance. I parked and walked into a lovely amphitheater and open space where Pixar employees take lunch and hold company events and meetings. In a courtyard was the famous lamp, which is the company symbol and always makes an appearance in the credits at the start of every Pixar movie.
There is a wealth of things to do in California’s wine country. Here is an activity you may not have thought of: Ziplining through Sonoma’s coastal redwoods.
A boy in flight.
My son and I took a “flight” through the forests of Occidental in Sonoma County, about two hours north of San Francisco. I’d heartily recommend it for families or anyone who is looking for something a little different than the usual Sonoma and Napa Valley pleasures of wine tasting and dining. Continue reading
Hemingway’s advice for writing well was simple: Run it through the typewriter one more time. We no longer have typewriters but the advice is still sound.
Ernest Hemingway, as a young man.
Almost without fail a second draft is better than a first. It is shorter, tighter, and less of a strain on your reader’s attention. For this blog post I went through three drafts. 1) I jotted my thoughts down on a legal pad. 2) I typed it up on my iMac. 3) I left it for a moment, came back, made a few last edits, and I was done. The whole process took twenty minutes.
This simple advice will help you write better books as well as better blogs, articles, and school papers. Just send it through the word processor one more time.
FYI. If you’re a young person looking for a good book, try Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. My personal favorites of his, though more for adults, are his novel A Farewell to Arms and A Moveable Feast, his memoir of living in Paris in the 1920s and ’30s.
“Squirrel? Duck? What you got?” Ruby is ready to chase something at this pond.
On a walk this morning, Ruby lit out after a squirrel she saw at the foot of an oak tree. She went all out, from the drop, to get that squirrel.
She didn’t get it.
She did not in fact even come close. Squirrels appear to like to torture her and dogs in general. This one hesitated a second, as if to lure her in with the tantalizing possibility that she might catch it, only to scurry easily up the tree out of reach.
“Hah hah,” it squeaked. “Can’t catch me.”
Undismayed, Ruby trotted back to me after her fruitless chase, thinking nothing of it. It occurred to me that humans can learn a lot from dogs on how to handle disappointment and defeat. Continue reading
Luther Burbank was to plants what Steve Jobs was to computers. A creative genius who could take a thing and combine it with another thing, and in so doing make the original thing better and even sometimes new.
Luther Burbank, left, and Henry Ford.
At the time of his death, in 1926, Burbank was one of the most famous men in America, certainly the most famous horticulturalist. Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Jack London, John Muir, and other luminaries of the time visited him at his home and gardens in Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco, to see him and a few of the wonders he had created such as the spineless cactus.
Many people do not know that Jennifer and I had a baby, Leah, who died. She was born Monday, November 25, 1996, and died Friday November 29, 1996, after five days of living only in a hospital. She had breathing problems she could not overcome.
Leah with her parents, in the last hour of her life.
One of the reasons that many people do not know about Leah is that I do not tell them about her. Privately, among our family and close friends, we of course speak of her and remember her. Every November around her birthday, a time of year that is particularly hard for her mother, we recognize her life by lighting a candle or hiking, as a family, up to the hill where we scattered her ashes. We talk about her freely with our sons, who never met her and will never understand the impact she has had on their lives.
Among people I do not know, however, talking about Leah represents an awkward challenge. Whenever a new book of mine comes out, the publisher releases biographical material about me that typically mentions the fact that I have children. I often speak publicly in front of groups, and occasionally do radio and TV interviews. These, too, generally mention my children, at least in passing, and this is where the awkwardness comes in. Do I tell people I have four children, or three? Continue reading
The other day my friend Max sent me a picture he had uncovered of us. I am the middle person here, the one with the beard. Max is on the left; another friend, Dan, is on the right. I was twenty at the time the picture was taken, on the day of my brother’s wedding. This is why I am in the tux. (I did not wear the wool cap during the ceremony!)
My older son is turning twenty this year, and he just shaved off a beard he had been growing for a while. I emailed him this picture to show him how his old man once had a pretty good beard, too. He liked it and texted it to some of his friends, many of whom commented favorably. Then, on Father’s Day, he shared the photo on SnapChat, saying, “Hey, this was what my dad looked like back in the day,” and he received a bunch more favorable responses. Finally, I made my son proud!
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and in a relaxed and optimistic mood I sat down on the couch with a mug of hot black tea and some papers and a pencil, thinking I could grab a few minutes for some hard copy editing of a piece I had written.
Then my son Gabe started shooting nerf darts at my head.
This ever happen to you? My sons seem to have built-in radar that tells them when I’m trying to steal some time for myself and do something other than cater to their every whim and desire. This is their cue to pop out of nowhere and shoot nerf darts at me. If you are a writer and a parent as I am—actually, if you run any home-based business or telecommute—it is unavoidable that there will be times when you must work when the children are home with you.
How do you get your work done when the li’l darlings are running around fighting and screaming and raising a wild rumpus? Here are some strategies and approaches that worked for me when our children were young: Continue reading
Above is the 1941 cover for The Black Stallion, which I am reading (and quite enjoying!) now. Written by Walter Farley, it is the beautiful story of a great horse, a boy who loved him, and their adventures.
In 1941 The Black Stallion—a clothbound book, printed in the USA—sold for $2. My wife when she was a girl rode horses, loved horse books, and collected a shelf full of Farley’s work.
For middle school girls and boys today, as well as those interested in reading a Young Adult classic of a bygone era, The Black Stallion is top shelf. The handsome cover and inside drawings were done by Keith Ward. The 1979 film directed by Carroll Ballard based on the book is also a treat.
Publishers Lunch publishes a free, downloadable ebook series known as Buzz Books. It’s an appetizer plate for readers, a taster’s choice sampling of forthcoming books to be published this fall and winter. The idea is to whet your appetite so you will buy the books in their full form.
The Buzz Books series includes adult fiction and nonfiction titles. Since my interest is in Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, I downloaded the fall/winter 2018 Young Adult publishing preview. Of the 16 quality novels excerpted, three really spoke to me:
Pay Attention, Carter Jones, by Gary D. Schmidt. A proper English butler arrives to help a discombobulated American family. Told by a middle school boy, it’s funny and surprising. The butler speaks very proper English, which is only fitting considering the author, Gary D. Schmidt, is an English professor.
Sadie, by Canadian author Courtney Summers. A down on her luck teen girl tracks down her sister’s killer by piecing together clues as she goes from town to town. It’s an interesting premise, made more interesting by an NPR-style podcast reporter who tells pieces of the story.
White as Silence, Red as Song, by Alessandro D’Avenia. This is an Italian bestseller, originally published as White as Milk, Red as Blood. It’s told by a boy for whom, as he says, “everything is a color. Every emotion is a color.” Silence, for instance, is white. I found the excerpt I read very enjoyable, although the summary at the front hints at darker things to come. I especially appreciated the fact that the boy’s love interest is named Beatrice who, as every fan of Italian literature knows, was also the woman who inspired Dante. D’Avenia’s classical references make sense because he is a classical lit teacher in Italy.
I look forward to reading these buzz books in their entirety.